Vishy's Reviews > Forget Sorrow: An Ancestral Tale

Forget Sorrow by Belle Yang
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Jul 24, 2011

really liked it

I got ‘Forget Sorrow’ by Belle Yang, as a birthday present from one of my dear friends. My friend has introduced me to a lot of beautiful literature and so I couldn’t wait to read Belle Yang’s book. I read it in one sitting. Here is what I think.

What I think

‘Forget Sorrow’ is the memoir of the author Belle Yang and that of her father. Belle Yang starts the book with her own life – on how she was born in Taiwan to parents who had come from mainland China and how they had ended up in America. She also talks about the difference between her perspective of life and that of her parents and the eternal conflict between the value systems of the east and the west and how that led to differences and conflicts at home. She goes away from home to attend college, but comes back home after graduating, as an ex-boyfriend is stalking her. Her father uses his contacts and gets her admitted to a traditional Chinese art course in Beijing, where her teacher is Deng Lin, Deng Xiaoping’s daughter. The year is 1989 and we all know what happened – it is the year of the Tiananmen massacre, and Belle experiences history as it happens. Unfortunately the situation in Beijing becomes too tough for her to manage and she comes back home to live with her parents and whiles away her time. Her dad is very disappointed with her and frequently compares her with people whom they know – he is disappointed that while everyone is moving on in their lives, studying at university and getting advanced degrees, or getting settled in good professions, his own daughter is whiling away her time at home. This time together helps Belle in getting to know her parents better. While having long conversations, her father tells her his own story – about his own parents and grandparents and uncles and aunts and how it came about that a poor family in Manchuria, became rich and how history intervened in the fortunes of the family and made it poor again, and how he was able to escape from his own country and strike it out in a free land. A significant part of the story is narrated by Belle Yang’s father and is about his family.

I liked ‘Forget Sorrow’ very much for the insider’s view it presented on early twentieth-century China. Belle’s grandparents were Manchurians and we see how this fact changes their lives and that of their families for good and for bad at different times in history. My favourite character in the story was Belle’s father’s second uncle, who is a person who loves live to the full, is philosophical, is not ambitious and is able to enjoy life when the family is rich and when it is poor. At various times he tries his hand at selling watermelons and works in a factory as an accountant and people around always like him for his unconventional ways and for his friendly nature. Another of my favourite characters is Belle Yang’s father’s aunt who dies young. The book also gives an interesting depiction of the debates, arguments, subtle politics and the kind acts that happen in a Chinese family of that era, where custom and tradition are important but where people find their way around tradition and indulge in spontaneous acts of kindness.

In some ways Belle Yang’s book reminded me of the graphic novel classics – ‘Persepolis’ by Marjane Sartrapi, because it was also a memoir set during a particular era, and of ‘Maus’ by Art Spiegelman, because as Spiegelman does, Yang also talks to her father and draws out the family story and secrets from him.

If you like reading books on China and if you like graphic novels, you will enjoy this.
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Reading Progress

July 24, 2011 – Shelved
August 3, 2011 – Started Reading
August 3, 2011 –
page 16
6.25%
August 24, 2011 – Finished Reading
August 28, 2011 –
page 256
100.0%

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